Aerial view of Tel Megiddo from the south
15 May 1479 в.с.
Egyptian: Unknown (probably
approximately 10,000 men).
Commander: Pharaoh Thutmose III.
Kadesh alliance: Unknown.
Commander: King of Kadesh.
By reestablishing Egyptian dominance in Palestine,
Thutmose began a reign in which Egypt reached its
greatest expanse as an empire.
Megiddo in History
Although historians know of battles before Thutmose III
and the King of Kadesh fighting in 1479 B.C., this
battle was the first to be recorded by eyewitnesses,
making it the first recorded battle in history. Because
of disputes over dating, however, just when the battle
took place is a matter of some debate. James Breasted in
1905 gave a detailed account of the battle, and his
dating has been used in the Megiddo entry as the most
specific, giving day and month as well as year.
William Petrie's translation of the Annals of Thutmose
III gives contemporary dates, not in years B.C. but by
years of the pharaoh's rule. Hence, we learn that
Thutmose began his campaign toward Megiddo when he left
the town of Tharu on the Nile delta on the twenty-fifth
day of the month Pharmuthi in the twenty-second year of
Thutmose's reign. That also creates some problems
because he dated his reign not from the previous year
when he succeeded Hatshepsut, but from the death of his
father and the year he should have begun his rule.
The battle at Megiddo is placed variously in 1458, 1467,
Megiddo remained an important location in the ancient
world, on the crossroads between the Hittites in the
north and the Egyptians in the south, as well as those
of the trade routes from the Mediterranean eastward to
the empites of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia.
The Book of Judges describes an eleventh-century B.C.
battle along the River Kishon, flowing along the Plain
of Esdraelon, which Megiddo overlooked. I
n that battle, Israelite forces under Deborah and Barak
defeated the Canaanite forces of King Jabin.
In 609 B.C., King Josiah of Judah was defeated and
killed at Megiddo by the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho.
Even more unspecific about the date of the first battle
at Megiddo is the date of the last one. The Hebrew word
for Megiddo is Armageddon, described in the biblical
Book of Revelation as the site of the final battle
between the forces of good and evil. The foundation for
one of the great ironies of history is thus foretold:
the beginning and the end of military history occur at
the same site.
Tel Megiddo in Israel
Tel Megiddo. History
Megiddo (Hebrew: מגידו; Arabic: المجیدو, Tell al-Mutesellim)
is a tell in modern Israel near Megiddo Kibbutz,
known for its historical, geographical, and
theological importance especially under its Greek
name Armageddon. In ancient times Megiddo was an
important city-state. Excavations have unearthed 26
layers of ruins, indicating a long period of
settlement. Megiddo is strategically located at the
head of a pass through the Carmel Ridge overlooking
the Jezreel Valley from the west.
Megiddo was a site of great importance in the
ancient world. It guarded the western branch of a
narrow pass and trade route connecting Egypt and
Assyria. Because of its strategic location, Megiddo
was the site of several historical battles. The site
was inhabited from approximately 7000 BC to 586 BC
(the same time as the destruction of the First
Israelite Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians,
and subsequent fall of Israelite rule and exile).
Since this time it has remained uninhabited,
preserving ruins pre-dating 586 BC without newer
settlements disturbing them.
mentioned in Ancient Egyptian writings because one
of Egypt's mighty kings, Thutmose III, waged war
upon the city in 1478 BC. The battle is described in
detail in the hieroglyphics found on the walls of
his temple in Upper Egypt.
Mentioned in the
Bible as "Derekh HaYam" or "Way of the Sea," it
became an important military artery of the Roman
Empire and was known as the Via Maris.
4th millennium BCE: Megiddo is first settled.
Battle of Megiddo (15th century BC): fought
between the armies of the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose
III and a large Canaanite coalition led by the
rulers of Megiddo and Kadesh.
Around 960: Rebuilt as a military centre by
the command of King Solomon of the united Israel and
Around 930: Conqured by the Egyptian king,
Battle of Megiddo (609 BC): fought between
Egypt and the Kingdom of Judah, in which King Josiah
Around 450: Last information about a settled
1903 CE: First excavations at Megiddo begins
by German archealogists.
Battle of Megiddo (1918): fought during World
War I between Allied troops, led by General Edmund
Allenby, and the defending Ottoman army.
IIn the early years of
the eighteenth century B.C., the power of Egypt's
Middle Kingdom was waning. That coincided with the
immigration of the Hyksos, a Semitic population
probably from the region of Palestine, that used
superior weaponry to topple the faltering Thirteenth
dynasty. The Hyksos dynasty began ruling Egypt in
1786 B.C. and lasted until 1575 B.C. By then the
Hyksos had become sufficiently complacent and
content to lose their edge, and the Egyptian
population reasserted control over their own nation.
The new pharaoh, who began the New Kingdom era, was
Ahmose (ruled 1575—1550 B.C.). Ahmose was not
content with merely regaining his country, but
wanted to extend Egypt's northeastern frontier to
establish a strong buffer zone. He also wanted to
extend Egypt's power because exposure to foreign
peoples had given the Egyptians a taste for things
that could come only from outside their country.
Hence, conquest and trade as well as security
motivated Ahmose's war making.
Following in Ahmose's footsteps, later pha-raohs
extended Egyptian authority into the region along
the eastern Mediterranean as well as southward into
Nubia, modern Sudan. Under the direction of Thutmose
I, Ahmose's grandson, Egypt established hegemony in
Palestine and Syria. Upon his death in 1510,
however, Egyptian expansion was temporarily halted
because of the attitude of the new pharaoh,
Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut was daughter of Thutmose I
and stepsister and wife to Thutmose II. When
Thutmose II died in 1490, Hatshepsut at first ruled
as regent for their young son Thutmose III, but soon
threw off all pretense at regency and ruled openly
as pharaoh, the only woman ever to do so. Her rule
(1490-1468 B.C.) was marked by more than 20 years of
peace, during which time Egypt embarked on a serious
building program of constructing temples and
Hatshepsut's passive foreign policy, however,
encouraged subject kings in the Middle East to
ponder the idea of independence. Under the direction
of the King of Kadesh, supported by the powerful
Mitanni population east of the Euphrates, the states
of Palestine and Syria broke free of Egypt's rule
about the time of Hatshepsut's death.
Early rumblings of
discontent had not been punished by Egyptian forces,
so the King of Kadesh, who probably exercised
suzerainty over most of Syria and Palestine,
demanded and received affirmations of loyalty from
his subject kings. Some small kingdoms in southern
Palestine hesitated, perhaps remembering the days of
Ahmose and the penalty for disloyalty. Kadesh sent
troops to compel them to cooperate, and it seems
that the kingdom of Mitanni gave Kadesh covert
support. They were an up-and-coming power
themselves, currently competing with the nascent
power of early Assyria. If Kadesh could hurt Egypt,
then the Mitanni certainly hoped to benefit.
The cause of Hatshepsut's death has never been
positively determined; it may have been
assassination at Thutmose Ill's direction. Whatever
the reason, Thutmose III was eager to take the
throne and restore Egyptian power. After directing
that Hatshepsut's name be obliterated from all
public buildings, he set about rebuilding an army
that had been idle for more than two decades. His
southern flank was secure because the Nubians had
become increasingly Egyptianized. He could therefore
focus on the rebellious kings to the northeast
without having to worry about threats to the rear of
army. How many men Thutmose enrolled has never been
determined. Most historians believe that no Egyptian
expeditionary force ever numbered more than 25,000
to 30,000, and the first army to take the field
after such a long hiatus would almost certainly not
be that large. The Egyptian army was comprised
primarily of infantry, carrying shields and side
arms— either axes or sicklelike swords. The
aristocracy fought from chariots and probably as
archers. Weapons at this time were bronze. The
forces that Egypt faced were equipped in much die
In his second year as pharaoh, Thutmose III took his
army into action. He appears to have been skilled as
an organizer because the rapid progress his army
made implies a well-laid-out logistical system. He
was also the first pharaoh who, apparently, took his
own chroniclers on campaign with him because the
details of the march and the battle are contemporary
with the campaign. Megiddo was the first battle in
history for which that can be said. Thutmose
departed the Nile delta at Tharu on 19 April 1479
and just 9 days later was at Gaza, some 160 miles up
the coast. He arrived there on the anniversary of
his coronation, but spent no time in celebration;
his troops were on the march the next morning.
Twelve days from Gaza,
the Egyptians encamped at Yehem, about 80 to 90
miles from Gaza and probably about 16 miles
southwest of Megiddo. That walled city was the
target because Thutmose's intelligence corps had
reported that the King of Kadesh and all his vassal
kings were there. At this point, Thutmose had three
possible routes to Megiddo. The road north to Aruna,
along the ridge of Mount Carmel, turned northeast at
that town and ran through a narrow pass directly to
Megiddo. His second alternative branched
north-northeast just past Aruna and intersected the
Tannach road north of Megiddo. The third possibility
was to take the road toward Damascus. This road ran
eastward from Yehem and then hit a junction, which
led north-northwest through Tannach. This route
would enable him to approach Megiddo from the south.
Thutmose's advisors counseled either of the latter
alternatives, as the pass was too narrow, inviting
an ambush. Thutmose brushed their cautions aside,
determined to take the direct route. He told them
they could go by any route they pleased, but he was
going through the pass. "For they, the enemy,
abominated of Ra, consider thus, 'Has His Majesty
gone on another road? Then he fears us,' thus do
they consider" (Petrie, A History of Egypt). His
subordinates reluctantly agreed to go with him.
Whether through accurate supposition or by good
intelligence, Thutmose was correct in his choice.
Apparently, the King of Kadesh never thought that
Thutmose would be stupid enough to commit his force
to a narrow defile, so he concentrated the bulk of
his army on the road near Tannach. Thutmose led his
men out of Yehem toward Aruna on 13 May. As they
approached the pass, he took the point position in
his chariot, certainly a decision designed to
inspire his troops and assure them of the
correctness of his decision. As they debouched from
the pass, they encountered only a small covering
force, which they quickly drove away. Here Thutmose
heeded his subordinates. Instead of launching a
pursuit, he agreed to deploy his force in a
defensive posture to allow the entire column to come
up. Hearing of the arrival of the Egyptian army, the
King of Kadesh withdrew his forces back to Megiddo.
Thutmose, either that afternoon or during the
evening, decided not to attack the forces of Kadesh
but instead to take up a position to the west of the
city. He deployed his men in an arc athwart the
small river Kina, with his flanks resting on high
ground. This gave him a good route of retreat, if
necessary. On the night of 14 May, the two armies
camped, facing each odier. At dawn, Thutmose spread
his forces in three groups. He commanded in the
center, and his left flank extended to the northwest
of Megiddo, to be in a position to block any enemy
retreat on the road that led northwest from the
city. The details of the battle are too sketchy to
determine how it was conducted. All the contemporary
chroniclers state is that the enemy fled before the
pharaoh's forces: "His Majesty went forth in his
chariot of electrum adorned with his weapons of war,
like Horus armed with talons, the Lord of might,
like Mentu of Thebes, his father Amen-Ra
strengthening his arms".
Whatever the missing details, die Egyptians gained
the upper hand, and the enemy fled in haste for the
protection of the city walls, abandoning their camp
and much of their materiel. That was what saved the
Egyptians, at least temporarily. The Egyptian
troops, lured by the prospect of loot, abandoned the
chase and turned themselves over to pillage.
That allowed the enemy to escape, although just
barely. The residents of the city closed the gates
rather too quickly, and the fleeing troops had to be
hauled over the walls with ropes made of clothing.
Thutmose was not happy, and chastened his men. "Had
ye afterwards captured this city, behold I would
have given [a rich offering to] Ra this day; because
every chief of every country that has revolted is
Having failed to capture the city in a rush,
Thutmose settled down for a siege. He ordered a wall
of circumvallation built of wood from the
surrounding forests; the rampart was called
"Thutmose, encloser of the Asiatics." In the wall,
one gate was built, through which those inside the
city that wished to surrender could exit. The
details of the siege were recorded on a roll of
leather stored in the temple of Amon, but only the
reference to that scroll survives.
The countryside was sufficiently lush to allow the
Egyptians to eat well out of the fields and off the
cattle and sheep herds. The length of the siege is
debatable, sources listing it as anywhere from 3
weeks to 7 months, although it was probably shorter
rather than longer. However long it took, the
besieged finally ran out of food and surrendered.
Although a number of
kings were taken captive, surrendering either during
the siege or at the city's fall, the King of Kadesh
managed to escape, probably in the immediate wake of
the battle. Thutmose took little retribution on the
captive kings or the city, although he did remove
back to Egypt much of the city's wealth. Thutmose,
however, had captured on the battlefield the king's
son, who he took back to Egypt as a hostage, along
with others of the king's family as well as the sons
of the other rebellious but now humbled kings.
The description of the spoils of war is long and
impressive, including 924 chariots, 2,238 hotses,
200 suits of armor, and the tent belonging to the
King of Kadesh along with all his furniture and
household goods. Added to the spoils of later
victories on this campaign, 426 pounds of gold and
silver were acquired.
With Megiddo now firmly in hand, Thutmose marched
his men northward toward Lebanon, taking possession
of the cities of Yenoam, Nuges, and Hemkeru. It is
not known if these cities had sent their submission
to him during the siege of Megiddo or if Thutmose
had to capture them upon his arrival; either way,
they came under his control quickly.
He ordered a fortress built in the area in order to
keep back any threat the escaped King of Kadesh
might mount and then proceeded to reestablish
Egyptian hegemony by either accepting the vassalage
of the local kings or replacing them with successors
who would swear loyalty. Just as he had done with
the son of the King of Kadesh, Thutmose took the
sons of those rulers back to Egypt.
This not only en-sured
cooperation, but it allowed the Egyptians to raise
the hostages in a manner that would immerse them in
Egyptian culture and powet, making them mote
amenable to control when the hostages were in a
position to succeed theit fathers.
Thutmose was back in his capital city of Thebes in
early October and master of a new and more stable
Egyptian Empire. It would not always be happy; he
conducted another fifteen campaigns in the northeast
to either subdue rebellions or beat back foreign
threats. During his eighth such campaign, he fought
and defeated the Mitanni on the other side of the
upper Euphrates, taking Egypt to the limits of its
empire. This completely transformed Egypt as a
nation. The wealth that came into Egypt in the form
of annual tribute was so massive that it allowed for
the construction of temples and public buildings for
which Egypt is best known today, barring only the
Pyramids and Sphinx.
Through both the Old and Middle Kingdoms Egypt had
striven to remain isolated; after the expulsion of
the Hyksos and the wars of the New Kingdom, commerce
with foreign powers was too profitable to ever go
back to the old days. The administration of an
required the establishment of an expanded
bureaucracy as well as a large standing army, both
of which are expensive propositions. The wealth was
the gift of the gods, so the priesthood also
expanded, gaining in both wealth and power. Their
temples demanded the best in craftsmanship, and the
artistic life of Egypt benefited. Two hundred years
after Thutmose III, Rameses II fought to maintain
the borders of the empire. No pharaoh fought as
often as he, but by the thirteenth century B.C. the
power of Egypt had reached its height. From then
onward, the Sea Peoples, the Hittites, the
Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the
Romans all either weakened Egypt or exercised
dominion over Egypt.